To head off climate catastrophe, a World War II-type effort needed, Canadian activists say

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On Monday, December 3, Canadian environmental activists convened by the Group of 78 (G-78), a progressive foreign policy institute, demanded that the world – and especially Canada – do more to help the victims of a warming planet.

Those who suffer most from climate change are in the poor countries of the global south, the activists point out, yet they are the least responsible for it.

To help mitigate the devastating impacts of global warming, the G-78 proposes that the Government of Canada allocate $3 billion to $4 billion a year toward international climate finance, in the form of grants.

In addition, the group wants the Government of Canada to lead an initiative to reform global trade institutions so that they “enforce climate change mitigation measures” and oblige the richer nations that have, for the most part, caused climate change, to share environmental technology with the world’s poor.

Later that day, as though in response to these demands, the World Bank, whose leaders are attending the UN climate change meeting in Poland, pledged US $200 billion to the fight. The government of Canada has yet to make a commensurate pledge.

A national carbon budget and a transition away from fossil fuels

The G-78’s annual conference, which it held in September in Ottawa, was devoted to the global challenge of climate change, with a focus on Canada’s role and responsibilities. The conference’s damning conclusion was that Canada is “losing the fight against climate catastrophe.”

G-78 executive members Roy Culpeper and Susan Tanner were blunt in their appraisal: “We have insufficient resolve to reduce the supply and consumption of fossil fuels; we need better incentives to promote the development of and shift to renewable energy; and national and provincial plans to prepare for catastrophic weather extremes are absent.”

The G-78 came out with the full report from the conference on Monday, which it unveiled at a news conference on Parliament Hill. The report has a number of practical and tangible suggestions for ramping up the climate-change fight.

For starters, the Group of 78 proposes that the federal government, and all other levels of government, commit to what it calls a “national carbon budget,” which would beinformed by Canada’s equitable share of the global carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level in order to reduce greenhouse pollution.”

The group believes the federal government’s carbon-pricing scheme is a good idea, but argues that it does not go nearly far enough. The report recommends that the federal government “substantially increase carbon pricing to align with mitigation scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C above the pre- industrial level.” Currently the target for Canada’s climate plan is quite a bit higher. It is the Paris target of 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

In addition, the activists make the radical, but eminently reasonable, suggestion that the “Government of Canada and its provincial counterparts facilitate the managed decline of fossil fuel production that includes the elimination of all fossil fuel subsidies.”

Rather than continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industries, through such measures as tax write-offs for exploration, the G-78 proposes that Canada “accelerate renewable energy production and infrastructure.” This entire enterprise, the report adds, “should be achieved within a just transition framework to support workers and communities adversely impacted.”

Finally, the Group proposes that all levels of government work toward a “transformation of our food system away from industrial agriculture towards small scale ecological farming with the aim of carbon neutrality in both distribution and production.”

None of this is on any government’s agenda in Canada. In fact, despite the evidence that Canada is not doing nearly enough to head off the global catastrophe of a 4-degree rise in temperature by the end of the century, there is neither political will nor momentum to adopt any new and more robust anti-climate-change measures.

All the pushback is from the who-cares-about-the-climate side

What the G-78 proposes would be a mobilization on the scale of World War II – a far more radical approach than the Trudeau government’s mild, moderate and revenue-neutral carbon-pricing scheme. Instead of pressure to do more, however, we have increased and vocal pushback against any climate-change fighting measures from Ontario, from New Brunswick, from Saskatchewan and from Conservatives throughout the country.

Populist and right-of-centre politicians have sensed the advantage in making a simplistic and demagogic appeal to the hundreds of thousands of car commuters of this country’s burgeoning suburbs. We’ll give you cheaper gas at the pump, they say, adding, with neither fact nor convincing arguments, that carbon taxes “kill jobs.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford even tried to claim that carbon taxes were somehow responsible for General Motors’ abandoning its Oshawa workers. That is the opposite of the truth. GM wants, in fact, to produce more environmentally-friendly vehicles and is closing plants in both the U.S. and Canada as part of that new direction. It’s a nasty decision, but nothing to do with carbon pricing.  

The federal Liberal government, and those few provincial governments that still care about the climate crisis, are fighting a rear-guard action now. All the noise they hear and all the heat they feel is from the other side. They will hardly be in a frame of mind to consider the more vigorous measures activists, such as those convened by the G-78, advocate.

Nor will they likely be motivated toward stronger action by the dire warnings of the   UN’s international panel of climate scientists.  That panel argued, not too long ago, that the Paris Accord’s targets – which we are not yet meeting – are, in truth, way too weak. If we want to even begin slowing down the rate of planetary warming, we will all have do much more that we agreed to do in Paris three years ago.

Perhaps what we need, in Canada and elsewhere, is some serious and concerted pressure from the pro-environment side, from those who can see beyond the price of filling their gas tanks and who care about the perilous fate of the planet we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren.


Photo: Representing the Group of 78 at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday: Susan Tanner (left to right), Anthony Garoufalis-Auger and Roy Culpeper. (Karl Nerenberg, rabble) 

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